Cathy Wilder: Compassionate Listening As An Art Form

 By Ellery Littleton 

“I do this work because I love it. I love what happens for others and I love what happens for me. I am always learning and experiencing the profound value of being truly curious … about others, about myself.” Cathy Wilder – August, 2013

“In the group I did with Cathy Wilder a few years ago at Haven, I felt safe and comfortable with her right away. She was warm and compassionate, but very direct, very perceptive; she called it like she saw it. I learned a lot.” Laurence Carter – Victoria, BC

Cathy Wilder attended her first Come Alive at Haven in 1991. “I knew immediately that I had found the piece that was missing when I finished my M.Ed and started working,” she says. “I was astounded at how much I learned and retained. The variety of connections and the ‘expansive opening’ I felt was beyond anything I had experienced before.”

Cathy began her coaching career in Toronto in the 1980s, working primarily with Ontario Hydro employees. Her love of the outdoors – particularly kayaking and skiing – brought her to BC in 1991, where she also discovered The Haven. “I recognized the value and wonder of the Haven approach,” she says, and since that time has integrated The Haven’s models and concepts into her work with individuals, couples and business teams in BC, China and South America.

After completing her DipC and PhD Cathy began assisting in Come Alives in 1994. Now she leads several programs a year at The Haven, including in 2014 Coaching (Feb. 21-24, with Jennifer Hilton), Come Alive (Mar. 9-14, with Leslie Whyte), Body Stories, Communication Fundamentals, and the Haven Toolkits.

Reflecting on the combination of factors which initially drew her to The Haven, Cathy says, “People I greatly respected suggested it to me … I was very unhappy … I had a great desire for change. I felt I had failed in some important areas of my life, particularly in relationship. I wanted to understand how I could have made such poor choices. I judged myself pretty harshly.”

Cathy is a familiar and welcome presence around Haven through the year, leading programs, attending meetings, gatherings and celebrations. But it’s the work with program participants that really sparks her feelings and creativity.

“I love the beauty and spirit of the work, the depth of connections; it’s stimulating, life-enhancing,” she says. “I love the way everything matters and the recognition of the interconnectedness of it all – which shows up in the way participants emerge from themselves and become more of themselves.”

Cathy laughs at her own enthusiasm, the way she lights up when she talks about the place and the work.

“I can’t help it … it’s both serious and wonderful fun, on a very deep level,” she says. “I see possibilities become realities at Haven. I see and experience people coming ‘unstuck’ when nothing else has made the difference, having the courage to leap into what they really want, become who they really are.”

Cathy’s friends and colleagues know who she really is, and are unanimous in their affection and respect.

“An exceptional listener”

“She quietly mentors people,” says Ernie McNally. “She’s very effective, but unobtrusive and self-effacing. She is an exceptional listener and a clear-eyed observer who steps forward to help. She lives the convictions of her heart and really supports people in their lives and work. She’s warm, kind, gentle, sweet and smart.”

Haven faculty member Jennifer Hilton has co-led many programs with Cathy, and echoes Ernie’s comments.

“She is gentle … Ernie’s right,” Jennifer says. “But she’s not wishy-washy gentle; she’s gentle with backbone. She really cares about others and is very compassionate, with strong empathy. She leads with her heart and relies on her senses to guide her. She is able to create and hold the compassionate space necessary for people to feel safe and open up.”

Jennifer comments on Cathy’s vibrant personality. “She sparks – and sparkles – with enthusiasm,” she says, “and has an uncanny ability to inspire others. What I appreciate about her most is how open she is with her creativity, heart, spirit for innovation, partnership and the pure enjoyment of life and the work we do together.”

Leslie Whyte also co-leads programs with Cathy. And like Jennifer, she appreciates her enthusiasm and commitment to her beliefs. “”She is passionate about doing what she can to make this world a better place for all who live here,” Leslie says.

“People who attend her programs will experience how present she is, her honesty, and her willingness to engage and work with difficult issues. She is a great teacher and models how to live the principles she teaches at The Haven.”

“I don’t think of my work at The Haven as a ‘job’ in the typical sense,” Cathy comments. “I’m fascinated by how the process works. How being in a group, sharing and revealing makes such a big difference; how the integrity and leadership of the team interacts with the participant group. I’m both fascinated and excited by my continuing awareness of how much there is to experience and learn.

“And there is the courage I have learned to come forward with, to share and explore what I am thinking … always with curiosity. The danger of hiding, pretending to be ‘other than’ has way too high a cost.”

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